Bird Flu in India: What Is Avian Virus? Can It Infect Humans?

Can you eat eggs and chicken? Or are you at the risk of catching the bird flu? Here’s all you need to know.

2 min read

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, several states across India are reporting an outbreak of another virus – the avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu.

What is avian influenza? Can it be transmitted to human beings? Here’s all you need to know.

What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. This is said to occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other birds and animals, explained the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

H5N1 and H7N9 are the most common strains of the virus.

Which states in India are reporting the virus?

  • Rajasthan
  • Kerala
  • Himachal Pradesh

States like Punjab, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh have sounded high alert.

Can human beings be infected with the bird flu?

According to CDC, Avian flu viruses “do not normally infect human beings”. Such an infection is rare, says Mayo Clinic website, adding that only sporadic cases have been reported since 2015.

However, if infected, the virus “can be deadly,” the health bodies say.

Does bird flu spread from one person to another?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), bird flu can be transmitted from one person to another, but again this is a rarity.

From 2003 to 2019, the WHO confirmed a total of 861 human cases of H5N1 worldwide, of which 455 deaths were recorded.

What are the symptoms of bird flu?

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath

Does this mean I should not eat eggs, chicken or duck?

Not really. Heat destroys avian viruses. Therefore, cooked poultry isn't a health threat. However, you should ensure that the meat is handled well and cleanliness is maintained while cooking it.

Most importantly, eggs and meat should be cooked well.

According to Mayo Clinic, the following precautions should be taken:

  • Use hot, soapy water to wash cutting boards, utensils and all surfaces that have come into contact with the raw poultry.
  • Because eggshells are often contaminated with bird droppings, avoid foods containing raw or undercooked eggs.

Why is bird flu a cause for concern?

According to the Bird Count India, a partnership comprising organisations and groups, over the past seven to 10 days, there have been reports of wild birds dying in separate incidents at different locations in the country.

At the moment, no one knows whether these are causes of larger concern, but it is worth keeping an eye on the situation, it said, according to IANS.

“If you encounter a wild bird that is dead or dying, do not approach it, and under any circumstances do not touch it, given the possibility (however small) that it might be infected with avian influenza. H5N1 is a highly contagious virus that can cause severe illness in people,” it warned.

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